Mae Hong Son province is probably Thailand’s most remote settlement of any real size and so can be difficult to get to. But there are daily flights to Pai and Mae Hong Son from Chiang Mai, which is the quickest and easiest way to get to both destinations.
However, most visitors arrive either by tour bus doing the ‘Mae Hong Son Loop’ or local bus to Pai, both of which have to traverse some windy mountain roads which offer stunning scenery but take four to seven hours (Pai or Mae Hong Son).
Flights to Mae Hong Son and Pai
There are several flights a day with both Nok Air and Kan Air, taking just over half an hour and a quick turnaround for the return to Chiang Mai. Flights to both are limited to small aircraft due to runway restrictions, therefore you can only fly from Chiang Mai.
Kan also offers a daily return flight to Pai (25 minutes), along with Tuesday/Thursday return flights to Khon Khaen and services to Nan and Phitsanulok. Nok Air also flies to Udon Thani and Mae Sot from Chiang Mai.
Buses to Pai and Mae Hong Son
Non-airconditioned buses from the Arcade (main) bus station in Chiang Mai several times a day for Mae Hong Son every couple of hours or so from 07:00 to around 16:00. All pass through Pai after roughly four hours, though the last bus doesn’t go as far as Mae Hong Son.
The total journey can be up to eight hours for the 300km route due to windy mountain roads. You’re advised to pre-buy your ticket for the earliest departure, as buses get crowded. In the reverse direction buses leave Mae Hong Son for Chiang Mai (via Pai) from 07:00 to 16:00.
In the busy season there are also songtheaw minibuses that will depart if enough passengers are waiting–it’s even affordable for a group of four or more travellers to charter one–but sitting side-facing in the back of these for three windy hours can result in awful travel sickness. Semi-comfortable air-conditioned, private minibuses also ply the route, so it’s worth enquiring with local travel agents and guesthouses.
Buses to Mae Hong Son also take the southern route (the ‘Loop’ n reverse) via Mae Sariang five times a day on slightly bigger and more comfortable buses from the Arcade bus station.
Hire car or bike
This is a popular options since you get to stop off at leisure to see points of interest along the way such as Huay Nam Dang National Park, Pong Deut hotsprings, the Soppong caves and some waterfalls. Particularly adventurous is to do the whole ‘Loop’ on an off-road bike, which can be hired from Joe’s Bikes (Chang Moi Road soi 3 (053) 251 186), or POP Bike Hire (Kotchasarn Road, beside Spotlight Bar, near Thapae Gate). There are plenty of other places around town offering Honda Waves and the like, although you are advised to take a 125cc model, especially if there are two of you on the bike. These step-thrus are better in the mountains than scooters.
Car hire is available from Northern Wheels and several prominent local and international companies in town, though we recommend booking online in advance.